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In the search industry, keywords are thought to be the crux of any campaign, defining the intent of the ad to the searcher, so the challenge of pulling together a compelling creative can be a daunting one.

It comes naturally to marketers to understand their audience and formulate a message, but getting that message across within the narrow limits of a 130 character creative can be a challenge.

For all sizes of paid search programs, creative optimisation is still one of the single most important strategies for increasing traffic, lowering costs and acquiring more revenue. 

To make the most out of creative, search marketers have to rely on testing. This involves constantly generating, analysing and repeating new creative in order to deliver a noticeable improvement in keyword-to-creative relevancy.

Furthermore, testing helps advertisers get to grips with more compelling creative messaging, so they can increase visitor engagement with the conversion funnel after they’ve clicked.

Making ads more relevant means a marketer can benefit from higher click-through-rates (CTR) and Quality Score, and as a result, lower costs. But more importantly, compelling creative results in higher conversion rates and more revenue.

Here are some best practices for conducting a successful creative test:

Select an appropriate test 

The start of any creative test comes with a choice, and marketers have a host of different test elements to choose from. Even at the most basic level, creative can be characterised by and tested with functional, emotional or promotional qualities.

The most successful creatives focus on the product or service and give information such as pricing or features. Emotional creative pulls at metaphoric heart strings and attempts to form a connection between the customer and the product or service.

Promotional creative highlights discounts and encourages a sense of urgency to take the brand up on their offer. Before engaging in creative testing, it’s important for a marketer to identify which persona their ad should have to understand the benefits each one provides.

Limit opportunity cost

Opportunity cost is the cost of any activity measured in terms of the value of foregoing the next best alternative.

To better understand this, let’s create a scenario. If we imagine that a fictional US sporting-goods retailer, Top-Notch Sports, has decided to generate and test three creative: A, B and C. The table below compares the performance of each creative, at statistical significance.

Let’s assume Top-Notch Sports decides to pause creative B, and continue testing creative A and C. Assuming that performance remains consistent, the opportunity cost of this activity, as well as testing creative B against creative C, is highlighted in the table below.

In continuing to test creative A, even after achieving statistical significance, Top-Notch Sports has lost out on 100 clicks, five conversions and $375 in revenue. This is because half the available impressions were allocated to the underperforming creative A, rather than all the available impressions being allocated to just creative C.

When testing creative, the opposing effects of opportunity cost are twofold. One, if you don’t test at all, you obviously sacrifice the benefits of running on better performing creative. But marketers also make a common mistake when testing – continuing to test even after they’ve reached statistical significance.

This results in the missed opportunity to simply run on the better performing creative. In our example, Top-Notch Sports should’ve paused creative A and B, leaving all of the impression share to creative C.

Test keyword tokens

Keyword tokens within a creative appear in bold whenever they match or closely match a user’s search query. Tokens are the individual words that make up a keyword. For example, the keyword “mens hiking backpacks” contains three tokens: “mens”, “hiking” and “backpacks”.

Marketers can improve the relevancy of creative to keywords by testing these tokens and finding out which promote higher Quality Scores by increasing CTR. 

A highly granular group might only contain keyword variations using the three tokens “mens”, “hiking” and “backpacks”. Pulling together creative including these tokens is quite easy, whereas a very general group might support more tokens and additional keyword variations.

Look at the search results below, where each creative uses a different set of tokens from the search query. A group might contain keyword variations of “mens hiking backpacks”, “mens rucksacks” and “mens bags”. Although all three keywords are similar, generating a relevant creative for this group is difficult.

Choosing to include “rucksacks” rather than “backpacks” makes the creative less relevant to consumers searching for backpacks. Not including “mens” makes the creative less relevant to male consumers.

Without splitting these keyword variations out into individual groups, deciding which tokens to include requires comprehensive testing.

To rank your test variables, pay close attention to the impression share of each token within the group. For example, assume keywords that contain the token “backpacks” account for 90% of the total group impressions and keywords that contain the token “packs” account for 20% of the total group impressions.

As searchers are more likely to include “backpacks” in their query, generating a creative including “backpacks” will likely result in a greater overall CTR than a creative that includes “packs”.

Search marketers are constantly looking for ways to find and engage their target audience. No optimisation strategy is more important to achieving this than creative testing. Continuously testing to find more relevant and more compelling creative will not only increase CTR and Quality Score, but decrease costs and drive more revenue. 

Using best practices and avoiding common pitfalls will help ensure that new versions of creative will gradually improve account performance. Though search marketers cannot guarantee all creative tests will be successful, they can guarantee all creative tests have been set up for success.

Ed Stevenson

Published 27 June, 2012 by Ed Stevenson

Ed Stevenson is Managing Director (Europe) of Marin Software, a paid search technology firm, and a contributor to Econsultancy. He also writes the Big Search blog. 

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Comments (1)

John Courtney

John Courtney, CEO and Executive Chairman at Pay on Results SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, Digital PR, PPC & CRO from Strategy Digital

Search marketers are constantly looking for ways to find and engage their target audience. No optimisation strategy is more important to achieving this than creative testing.

about 4 years ago

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